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Bucs’ Jamel Dean wins starting cornerback job against Cowboys

Coach Todd Bowles says the former Auburn star beat out Sean Murphy-Bunting for the job, but both will play.
Bucs teammate Devin White says cornerback Jamel Dean has taken "his game to a whole different level."
Bucs teammate Devin White says cornerback Jamel Dean has taken "his game to a whole different level." [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 5|Updated Sep. 5

TAMPA — Jamel Dean attacked the opportunity to win the Bucs starting cornerback job the way he does the football.

Always among the most physically imposing players at his position, with great length and 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, he aggressively went after the position held by Sean Murphy-Bunting.

“I can just speak on this in training camp. He’s been attacking the ball,” linebacker Devin White said of Dean, the fourth-year pro from Auburn. “He was always a player who was going to be in position. He wasn’t going after the ball but he wasn’t going to get beat. He was that type of player.

“But he just took his game to a whole different level. He’s tall (6 feet 1). Probably the fastest defensive player. A 4.30 (in the 40-yard dash). He’s long, rangy and now he’s attacking the ball. I think he’s putting together a resume.”

Coach Todd Bowles added a line to Dean’s player biography by naming him the starter opposite Carlton Davis for Sunday night’s opener against the Cowboys.

“He’s made great improvements since he got here, and he studies,” Bowles said Monday. “He comes back in shape. It was a tough battle because Sean had a heck of a camp, he really did. Dean had just a notch better and they both will play a lot.”

After Monday’s practice, Dean had little reaction when asked about his starting role. The never-too-high, never-too-low mantra of NFL defensive backs was on full display.

Jamel Dean, left, and Sean Murphy-Bunting run drills during training camp. While both had a great camp, according to coaches, Dean had the edge.
Jamel Dean, left, and Sean Murphy-Bunting run drills during training camp. While both had a great camp, according to coaches, Dean had the edge. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It’s just another opportunity to make plays,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

When asked if it was a big deal to him to be named the starter, Dean shrugged. “Just excited to play. That’s all.”

Davis, who got to the NFL a year earlier than Dean and signed a three-year, $44.5 million contract this year with $30 million guaranteed, shared the secondary with Dean at Auburn.

“He’s made a lot of progress just over the last two years. He’s really a reliable player for us and he’s going to help us win the Super Bowl,” Davis said. “He’s really held up for us. When you talk about coverage and making the plays, Dean and I, it’s like we go back and forth. I’m happy to be playing with him out there. ...

“We’ve been doing this one-two punch for a minute.”

It was a tough outcome for Murphy-Bunting, who dislocated his elbow in a season-opening win over Dallas a year ago.

Murphy-Bunting was one of the Bucs’ stars in their run to Super Bowl 55, intercepting three passes in the playoffs. He was moved from a part-time role in the slot to focus only on playing cornerback this offseason and by all accounts performed well. But if the 2021 season taught the Bucs anything, it’s that you can’t have enough depth at that position.

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Jamel Dean (35) intercepts a pass intended for Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins last October.
Jamel Dean (35) intercepts a pass intended for Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins last October. [ MATT SLOCUM | AP ]

“This year was kind of interesting going into camp because (Bowles) made it clear right way we were going to have a battle at that position,” co-defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “Each day, Dean kept making plays. I sat next to (Bucs defensive backs coach Kevin) Ross in our meeting every day and he pointed out, ‘He’s getting his hands on the ball, he’s getting his hands on the ball, getting his hands on the ball.’ ...

“Just to see the growth he made was really impressive.”

A year ago, the Cowboys presented the Bucs secondary with one of its biggest challenges. Dallas had Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup at receiver. Having shut down the Cowboys’ run game, quarterback Dak Prescott completed 42 of 58 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

But Gallup is injured and Cooper is now with the Browns.

“They’re a little light compared to last year when we played them, but nevertheless, a game is a game,” Davis said. “Dallas is a good team. Dak is going to throw the ball and regardless of who is out there, we’ve just got to get the job done. Play our brand of defense and win the game.”

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